As marketers, it is our responsibility to address people respectfully and nothing is more important than simply using the correct pronouns. We’re all familiar with she/her and he/him pronouns, but there’s a third set of pronouns that we need to become more familiar with, and that’s singular they/them pronouns.

Why Would Someone Use They/Them Pronouns?

To answer this question, we’re going to need to do a crash course in gender theory. In our society, we have a gender binary: a system of gender classification in which all people are categorized as being either male or female. This is a very traditional way of looking at gender, where you’re either one gender or the other and are expected to follow the societal standards and expectations of that gender. 

But some people don’t feel like they identify with the rules of the gender binary, or the gender assigned to them at birth. For some people, that may mean transitioning to the opposite gender as that’s what they feel comfortable with. But for others, they may not identify as either male or female. Some may feel very comfortable in the middle as androgynous and gender fluid individuals who don’t feel specifically tied to one gender. Other folks don’t identify in the gender binary at all and feel they are completely genderless, taking on the title of nonbinary. 

Because these folks don’t identify with the two genders in the binary, and we haven’t created new language for other genders, many nonbinary individuals will take on they/them pronouns because they’re already ungendered words. 

Examples

When you find a lost wallet on the ground you don’t go looking for him or her, you go looking them so that you can return their wallet because they need it back. 

It has been very common in academia over the last 40 years to write “he or she” when writing about someone whose gender is unknown. But that is extremely clunky and redundant when we’ve already had language for when we don’t know someone’s gender.

If you’re still unsure about how best to use singular they/them pronouns, here are some more examples of them in action.

  • “They were telling me about their day.”
  • “They’re going to the beach today with their friends.”
  • “I had lunch with them and their mom.”

Being Gender Inclusive in Our Language

Multiethnic work group talk during casual office meeting, discuss business ideas sharing thoughts, smiling diverse colleagues or employees speak negotiating at informal briefing at workplace

Whether we are aware of it or not, we have a lot of gender incorporated in our language and the words we use. Whether you’re addressing a group by saying “hey, guys” or even “ladies and gentlemen,” you’re including one or two genders, which will make others feel left out or misgendered. 

The folks in the south are really good at inclusivity in language whether they know it or not. “Y’all” is a great way of addressing a group of people without including a gender in what you say. Though this phrase isn’t great in professional language for your marketing materials, it can be very helpful and inclusive when talking out loud to students and faculty. There are many great ways of addressing people that are gender inclusive and even fun. Below we’ve listed some of our favorites in order of professionalism:

  • “Hello, everyone.”
  • “Hey, folks!”
  • “Hey, y’all!”
  • “Hey, friends!”
  • “Hey, team!” 
  • “Hey, all you guys, gals, and nonbinary pals!”
  • “What is up, party people?”
  • “Howdy, partner!”
  • “Ahoy, matey!” 
  • “Hey, besties!”
  • “Good morning starshine, the Earth says hello!”
  • “Privet, comrades!”

Language and word choice is critical in conveying your message to people, so let’s start addressing people respectfully and inclusively.